Archive for the ‘Pudge Heffelfinger’ Tag

Broken Tackle: Fritz Pollard and Pudge Heffelfinger

In the course of research that resulted in Joe Lillard Superstar in these pages a few days ago, I came across an anecdote that I thought was funny involving another athlete with Minnesota connections, Pudge Heffelfinger. The story recalled the time Heffelfinger met Fritz Pollard at a reunion of players who had been named to Walter Camp’s All-America football teams.

William Heffelfinger, known from childhood as “Pudge,” was the son of C.B. Heffelfinger whose men’s shoe store had been on Bridge Square in Minneapolis since the late 1860s. Pudge played football with crushing physicality and was a behemoth for his day at 6’3″ and 195 pounds. His day was late 19th Century. He was a three-time All-America tackle at Yale 1889-1891 and is often considered the first professional football player. He allegedly was already receiving “double expenses” when he played for the Chicago Athletic Association in 1892, but when the Allegheny Athletic Association team of Pittsburgh was preparing to play their Pittsburgh rivals they offered Heffelfinger $500 to take the train down from Chicago and help them win, which he did. He recovered a fumble and returned it for the game’s only score.

Heffelfinger in his Yale sweater. He was named to All America teams from 1889-1891. (Photographer unknown.)

Frederick Douglas “Fritz” Pollard was a kid from the north side of Chicago who became an All-America halfback at Brown University in 1916. In 1920 Pollard was one of the first two Black players in what became the NFL along with Bobby Marshall from Minneapolis Central High School and the University of Minnesota. Pollard also became the first Black coach in the NFL with the Akron Pros in 1921. Pollard was 5’9″ and about 165 but had firefly — now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t — elusiveness.

Fritz Pollard, left, with Paul Robeson in 1918. Robeson was about the same size as Heffelfinger. Robeson played pro football for Pollard’s Akron Pros in 1921, but he became better known as an actor. He also had a law degree. (Photographer unknown, The Crisis, 1918)

The story goes that Heffelfinger was introduced to Pollard at the reunion dinner for many of the greatest players in the history of the game in the 1920s. Players of that stature often have, shall we say, an abundance of self-confidence as well as an ease with the playful banter of the locker room. Heffelfinger, then in his 50s was probably still his full youthful height but if he was like most men, he had augmented his playing weight by a belt notch or two. Pollard was in competitive shape, but still six inches shorter. The difference in size prompted Heffelfinger to comment as they shook hands, “Mr. Pollard, if you were playing in my day, I think I might have broken you in two.” Pollard responded with a smile, “Mr. Heffelfinger, I don’t think you could have broken my stride.”

Apocryphal? Maybe. But who cares, its a great story. It’s the kind of retort I wouldn’t have thought of until the next day!

Heffelfinger became a successful real estate developer in Minneapolis and infuential in Minnesota politics. The Heffelfinger name is preserved in Minneapolis parks by an Italian fountain in the Rose Garden which was donated to Minneapolis parks in 1947 by Frank Heffelfinger, Pudge’s brother.

Heffelfinger Fountain in Lyndale Park. (Photographer: William Wessen)

David Carpentier Smith

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